UNSC Open Debate on the situation in the Middle East

  • Murray McCully
Foreign Affairs

Delivered in New York, Monday 18 April 2016 (local time).

Thank you Mr President and other members of the Security Council.

Next Saturday will be two years since negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were suspended.

In the meantime, violence has escalated, settlements have continued and trust between the two parties has been further eroded. And the Council has been largely a spectator.

It has been common ground in this Council, and in the eyes of the international community, that the two state solution is the only path forward for resolving this matter.

Yet today it is becoming increasingly apparent that the two state solution may be moving beyond reach and that if matters continue as they have for the last two years without action from this Council and others, the two state solution will be dead.

Against this background it is difficult to understand why the United Nations Security Council has not passed a single resolution on this question in over seven years- that the Council could be a silent witness to the demise of the two state solution.

So what does the international community expect of the Security Council in the difficult circumstances of today?

First, they expect the Council to reassert the two state solution as the only pathway to a secure and lasting peace.   And they undoubtedly expect the Council to condemn the violence on both sides and the ongoing settlements programme as unacceptable obstacles to the two state solution.

Second, they expect the Council to support and give momentum to the work taking place outside the Council- in the Quartet, amongst the Arab League members, and through the proposed French international conference. That work is necessary to rebuild confidence and trust, and prepare the parties for negotiations.

And third, at the right time, they expect the Council to endorse a pathway back to negotiations, potentially through a parameters resolution.

Mr President, opinions differ as to the sequencing of some of these elements.  In particular there is debate as to whether a Council resolution focused on preserving the two state solution, stopping violence and rhetoric, and stopping settlements might best precede the proposed French Conference or whether it might follow.

But I believe there is broad agreement as to the content of these three phases.

When New Zealand proposed draft text last year, in the absence of any alternatives, we were persuaded through the process of consultation that there was insufficient support for it to succeed and that other processes in play might have been affected by Council action at that time.

However the situation has deteriorated further and the threat to the two state solution has become greater.

So New Zealand will, over the coming weeks, resume the conversation about the sequencing and content of a focused Council resolution as the views of the French representatives and the Quartet take greater shape.

The efforts of those parties are vital.  But they are not sufficient. And they cannot absolve this Council of its responsibility to lead.

It is our absolute conviction that a Council resolution is an essential ingredient in the steps that lie ahead, the only issue is its timing and relationship to external processes.

New Zealand would find it hard to understand how a text with the limited purpose and focus I have outlined could be too strong to be acceptable to other Council members.

Conversely, some others may be underwhelmed and want a more wide-ranging resolution.  However, from the very careful soundings we have taken, our conclusion is that, in the current dire circumstances, maximalist positions will almost certainly fail, and serve only to consign the Council to continuing to preside in silence over the demise of the two-state solution.  Our immediate task must be to preserve that ultimate goal, and to put the Council’s weight behind the first steps on the path

I know that there are those who would rather the Council played no role and others who will assert that there are risks around a Council resolution at this time.

But the greater risk by far is that the Council might do nothing at all as the two state solution is pronounced dead and buried.

So, New Zealand is committed to seeing this Council resolve a clear plan over the coming weeks.

Between the work of the Quartet, the Arab League, the French initiative and others, there is a vitally important role for this Council.

We will work with others to determine whether a Council resolution can best support the work of the Quartet, the French and Arab ministers by being finalised before or after the other initiatives that are underway.

However, whether a Council initiative is concluded imminently or a little later in the year, we believe it will be useful to start discussions at an early time about text and about synchronising the Council's consideration with other parties and external initiatives.

We hope, Mr President, that by the time of the next Middle East debate in the Council, there is greater clarity and unity about a way forward.

Thank you.